Last weekend my immediate family gathered together at my brother’s place in Horace. My grandma Rita joined in on the fun too, which was a sweet (sorta planned) surprise. Usually she finds herself at my Uncle Troy’s but due to everyone’s comfortability with health and whatnot, that just wasn’t in the cards.
We did the usual things; visited, opened gifts, and played games. At one point, the games got so rambunctious that my dad asked my mom how much we’d all had to drink. Shocker, pops but we were simply jacked up on cheer and chocolate. He and my youngest brother sat idlily by while we quite literally displayed Utter Nonsense in various accents round and round again. A game everyone must have in their collection!
I do think this was one of the most enjoyable Christmases I remember having in quite some time. The food was good, the company even better. No one seemed to be too bogged down by having to spend quality time with each other and my dad even got out of the house to go pawning; a regular activity that really seems like a holiday tradition.
Fast-forward to the real deal, Christmas itself.. I found myself with nothing to do and I was actually pretty okay with it. I felt blessed that my family was all in good health and able to spend time together the weekend before. I had decided weeks ago to keep myself busy by volunteering at church on Christmas Eve and filling my Christmas Day with holiday movies galore.
For the first year in three, I wasn’t sad. I had a couple of blips, sure. A few moments in the days leading up to the holiday when people were describing their plans and I was like “well, we celebrated last weekend so just me, myself, and I.” And actually, I think more people felt sorry for me than I felt for myself, which was new.
I hadn’t physically stepped foot in Prairie Heights in months; only twice since our worlds changed. It was weird and uncomfortable both times but not for lack of trying. We all have had to make due with what we can; evolve to live. We’re taught to believe that church isn’t a building but people. It’s true, I do believe that. But it’s hard to be the church without the people. Without seeing the faces IRL that keep you accountable in whatever it is; life, faith, or otherwise.
My eyes swelled up before I even opened the doors at PH and when I was greeted with the same smiling eyes as I always had been, I was reminded that the church is in fact people but it didn’t sink in until I was in the building. How is that?
I felt like I was both home and away from home in the same moment. I watched from the sidelines as the service before the one I volunteered at get dismissed; families gathering together for what I can only assume is a holiday photo opp. I watched other volunteers embrace one another in elbow bumps and air high fives, radiating such immense joy from behind their masks.
I listened intently as Marni, the director of Guest Services thanked us, prayed over us, and shared the hurt in her heart over how different her holiday was this year in comparison to years past. I found myself feeling remorseful for getting to spend the holiday with my family just last weekend, forgetting how many households didn’t have that luxury this year.
A dear friend of mine was asked to share her story with the PH community this Christmas season. The theme being “The Thrill of Hope.” Now, I don’t know if it’s just because I know her or if it was the feeling of community on Christmas Eve or the holy spirit at work; likely a combination of all three but her story, even though I’d heard it previously, hit me like a ton of bricks.
I met Anna before she’d even attended Prairie Heights. She joined the same Grow Group I did at the same time, but she had yet to step foot in the church. We both came with broken hearts for different reasons and had the courage to not only show up but trust others to be gentle. To ask for prayers. I feel so honored to have seen first hand how God has been working in her life since that first evening I met her. One of my very favorite things Anna has ever said in our small group and in her testimony is: “I had a God-shaped hole in my heart and I was trying to fill it with everything else. But it was Jesus, that’s what was missing.” Uffda, is that ever true. You can watch Anna’s video below:
To my surprise, I actually didn’t end up being alone on Christmas either. My aunt reached out asking if I’d like to come over for dinner and to visit. All of my cousins on my dad’s side were there and it was such a fun time. Growing up, we were hours and hours away from that side of the family. We’d see them occasionally but we didn’t grow up with them, like on my mom’s side. So, as the oldest, it’s always been so weird for me. Like, I remember them young. In diapers. Little kids that were too tiny to play Scrabble or have anything in common with. Now, fast-forward two decades and we’re all adults. We’re on different paths and have completely different worlds but we have the opportunity to connect in a way that we never did before. It’s still weird though. I still feel like the old one in the bunch but I’ll take what I can get!
We played what seemed like a plethora of games and changed the rules of some. We ate delicious foods, too many sweets, and I may have participated in an olive showdown challenge with my cousin, Dallas. I even talked them into taking part in the inaugural adventure of the Adventure Challenge book I gifted myself this Christmas. ‘Twas a fun time.
I originally had a different plan for this final post of the Holidaze series. I wanted to focus on the story of Christmas; that it’s not about the gifts or the food or the fun. Because faithfully, it’s not. I think we all know that. And I think we’ve all just come to accept that it’s morphed into this Americanized “vacation” that everyone either looks forward to or dreads.
- Whether we celebrate the holiday for the right reasons or not, I was reminded in my BEMA small group this week of Micah 6:8 “..to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
- I was nudged to serve at Prairie Heights for Christmas so others could spend quality time with their loved ones.
- I was moved by Anna’s message of hope when everything seems so hopeless.
- I was reminded by Pastor Beth in her Christmas message that everything has meaning in God’s plan.
Christmas isn’t about the gifts or the food or the fun. But it is. The gift of life and community that we’re fortunate to be given because of Jesus. The food of wisdom and the God-moment reminders in every day life are there, if we are hungry enough to listen. The fun in the joy we feel by seeing and being with people we love.
Jesus taught us to simply love one another. That’s it, really. The story might get lost and the traditions might change but the message never has. I hope that even if your holiday season was filled with piles upon piles of wrapping paper and garbage bags full of leftovers, that you were able to take pause and feel even the slightest sense of gratitude for all that Christmas is regardless of creed.
Merry Christmas from here and thank you for reading! -Ori